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Training key to improving citizen scientist-collected data


Faculty collecting baseline data. Comparisons with faculty-collected baseline data revealed that the high school students were unable to reach the data collection standards of the professionals, calling into question the accuracy of citizen scientist data.

Feb. 15, 2016 – Using volunteer “citizen scientists” to collect data seems like an ideal way for budget-strapped agencies and nonprofits to augment their workforce. Unfortunately, data collected by citizen scientists have the potential for error, according to a study by scientists from four universities. “These people receive a little bit of training — a day at most, but often only 30 minutes — and then they collect data that are used by scientists. However, this movement is happening without really checking the accuracy of the data collected by these citizen scientists,” said Associate Professor Carolyn Copenheaver, a co-author of the study, published in NACTA Journal.

The research team looked at how accurately high school students collected tree diameter data and identified trees within a fixed plot, and the degree to which accuracy was influenced by the scientific background of the adult instructor. The same data had been previously collected by professional scientific researchers as a baseline. The results were best when trained university faculty members instructed students and in study areas with lower biodiversity.

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